It was Thursday the 4th March 2004 when CBS aired the sixth episode of Survivor: All-Stars. Contestant Susan Hawk quit the game after accusing fellow contestant Richard Hatch of sexually violating her during the previous episode’s Immunity Challenge. Sue’s quit, her tirade at host Jeff Probst, and the subsequent fallout and reaction from the rest of her castmates made for the most uncomfortable episode in the history of this show. There have been moments that have come close over the years: NaOnka’s treatment of Kelly Bruno, Colton and Alicia’s bullying of Christina Cha, Brenda making Dawn remove her teeth, and anything involving Brandon Hantz. But last night’s episode of Survivor: Worlds Apart was the most uncomfortable I’ve felt watching this show since the infamous Sue Hawk incident.
I felt like I needed a full body cleanse after the episode had finished airing. Not since Survivor: Thailand has a season had such a depressing, nasty tone to it. It is not fun to watch anymore. I don’t like to complain about Survivor, after all, it is my favorite reality game-show, I wouldn’t spend so much time writing and talking about a show that I didn’t love. But it comes to a point in certain seasons where it is no longer enjoyable.
It’s a shame because I believe this season had a strong pre-merge, the editing has mostly been fair (although recently the focus has predominantly been on Mike/Shirin/Rodney), and it had heaps of potential concerning tribe dynamics leading into the merge. However, the game focus has been drowned under a sea of anger, arguing and personal attacks. Gone is the humor and likability factor that is required to secure a place in the annals of Survivor’s greatest seasons.
Before we address the elephant in the room lets take a look at Mike and his standing in this game. Mr. Texas was riding high; he was the leader of a majority alliance with a strong social game, and people trusted him. How the hell did he end up sitting in the outcast cave with Jenn and Shirin? He started from the top, and now he’s here, like that Drake song if Drake suddenly fell upon hard times. Here are the two most important things this episode suggests to be the defining factors in Mike’s downfall. Firstly, his almost bad-ass move at the auction that turned into a lame-duck move when he backed out merely seconds later.
Before Probst opened the bidding on the advantage, everyone had the chance to buy their letters from home for $20 a piece. After they all had agreed to do this, Mike let Carolyn and Dan (the other two people waiting for the advantage) purchase their letters first. As soon as they parted with their cash, he sat back down without buying his own, leaving him $20 richer and able to purchase the advantage with no rival bidders. It was such a bad-ass strategic move (terrible socially) that I think I fist pumped the air. But after the less than warm reception from his fellow tribemates, Mike quickly back-tracked and bought his letter too. It was disappointing because the damage was done at that point; Mike should have just gone through with it and owned the moment. Instead, Dan has the damn Extra Vote advantage.
The second part of his downfall was his ill-timed calling out of Rodney for flipping. Everyone was ready to read their letters from home and spend a few minutes not thinking about the game, but instead, Mike decided to put everyone on blast. Rodney played this well, making sure everyone knew that Mike had gone crazy and ruined what was supposed to be a touching moment. I also liked how Rodney called the family letters “love letters,” although given how close Rodney is with his mother, maybe his was a love letter.
These were both significant missteps for Mike, but regardless of whether they happened or not, Mike was always going to be the next target, and it goes back to what I was saying last week. Having Joe in the game was beneficial to Mike as it kept the target off him. Joe was a perfect shield as Mike was able to rally his troops against a common enemy. With Joe gone it was obvious Mike would be next in line. Keeping threats in the game is a valid strategy.
I think it is safe to say that if Mike hadn’t won Immunity, then he would have been sent packing this episode. Now Mike is in the same position Joe was in, fighting for his life in the game every single week. Mike went from smooth sailing to rough seas real fast, and his journey to the end isn’t going to be an easy one.
I want to touch on the new Extra Vote advantage for a second. While I hate that it ended up in the hands of Dan, I do think the concept of an Extra Vote is interesting and could be an exciting addition to the game. It isn’t overly powered like the “Tyler Perry” idol, in fact, it isn’t even as powerful as a standard Hidden Immunity Idol. The Extra Vote requires a lot more thought in regards to how and when you should play it. It should also make the strategy of split votes more interesting in future seasons if this becomes a consistent feature of the game. Why couldn’t have Shirin got it, though? Although to be fair to her that fried chicken and waffles did look good.
Based on the preview for next week it appears Tyler roots through Dan’s bag and discovers the Extra Vote, potentially ruining what could have been an awesome reveal at a future Tribal Council. As annoying as that is, Tyler has been playing fairly smart, even though his lack of outward emotion doesn’t seem to warrant airtime.
Okay, now for the dark stuff. Imagine for a second you’re a huge Doctor Who fan (who isn’t?!). Suppose you have watched every season, even the old black and white ones, and you know all the catchphrases and characters. Imagine you have spent the last five Halloweens dressed in your fez and bowtie. Now suppose you get the chance to meet your favorite Doctor, whether that is Tom Baker or David Tennant or Matt Smith etc. It is the most exciting day of your life! A dream come true. Then imagine the Doctor starts berating you, calling you fat and ugly and saying that nobody loves you, including your friends and family, and worst of all that have you have no soul. Doctor Who is now ruined forever for you. Substitute Doctor Who for anything you are passionate about and then you can begin to understand how terrible Shirin must feel. She got a chance to play her favorite show but instead of been able to enjoy herself she had her experience tainted by a bunch of Neanderthals who seem to enjoy belittling others.
Let me preface this by saying once again that yes, I have never played Survivor, and therefore I can’t fully appreciate the levels of stress and mental fatigue these people are feeling after 27 days of starving and fighting for a million dollars. And secondly, I understand Will’s right to be upset after been accused of lying about stashing extra food away from his tribemates. However, the level of personal attacks Will spewed towards Shirin was poisonous and beyond unacceptable. Saying that it was in the heat of the moment or that the game makes you do crazy things is a poor excuse and a major cop out. Over 400 people have played Survivor and dealt with the same conditions, and I can’t remember anyone off the top of my head being that needlessly callous in their attack on another person.
I’ve said on a few occasions in this blog that while Will’s gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, he seems to be a very likable person. I guess I was fooled. But then again what do you expect from someone that continues to lie about the legitimacy of his Jay Leno prank; YouTube sensation my arse! You can talk about high-pressure situations, you can talk about biased editing, but no one put those words in Will’s mouth. We all heard them. We heard them when he was yelling at Shirin at camp. We heard them again when he refused to back down from his position at Tribal Council. It didn’t just stop at Will saying that nobody there liked Shirin (that, while cruel, you could just about say was in the context of the game). He stated that nobody in the United States missed Shirin, that she has no friends, she has no family, no one that cared about her. Those words were vicious and clearly intended to hurt. And then to have the nerve to say Shirin plays the “victim” in air quotes? Forget “Livin’ On A Prayer” this dude is living on cloud cuckoo land.
So excuse me if I didn’t feel bad when Shirin objected to Will’s proposal of sitting out of the Immunity challenge in exchange for his letter from home. And what kind of offer was that? It’s not as if Will had any chance of winning that challenge! That’s like Kevin James saying “Hey if you give me that letter I’ll pull myself out of the running for an Oscar nomination.” You were never going to receive a nomination for an Academy Award Kevin, just like Will was never going to win Immunity. Well done to Shirin for sticking to her guns. And I don’t even think it was a terrible social move for her. The people that already didn’t like her weren’t going to change their minds either way, and I think the others probably respected her more for having conviction. Certainly, no one seemed to act shocked or disgusted, unlike the reaction to when Mike almost didn’t buy his letter at the auction.
Sorry to gloss over the rest of the episode but those were the main topics that needed discussing even though it wasn’t pleasant. Jenn was eliminated in rather predictable fashion when Mike was unable to sway Dan back over to his side. It’s a shame because Jenn was someone who early on in this game showed great potential but she checked out last week and never got her head back in the game. I’m not sure what the end-game holds in store. At this point, it looks like it’ll take a miracle for Mike (respect to him for being the only one to stand up for Shirin) or Shirin to pull off the win. If they do then, perhaps the post-merge of this season can somewhat be salvaged but either way, I expect a lot more nastiness to come.